Wheatless Wednesday — Chocolate Hazelnut Crispy Bars

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I think May just might be my favorite month of the year.  The mornings are still cool, a brilliant blue sky often smeared with swaths of white cirrus clouds, the promise of a warm day shining through the wispy edges.  The dirt is freshly turned, the grass is thick, and garden centers are packed with brilliant colors and lush greens that wink at customers and whisper ever so softly that this is the year the flowerbeds are going to be gorgeous;  this is the season the garden is going to be overflowing with beautiful produce and not overcome by weeds, bugs, and pests.

School is almost out, but until then, the month is full of the possibilities that come with having class outside, discovering lost favorite pens and pencils in the bottom of desks, extra recesses and rounds of hangman or other class games as teachers are finishing up the material, resigned to the fact that they aren’t going to get to that last unit.  And field trips–the joy of controlled chaos riding away from school on a bus to a destination of learning and gift shops!

I would be lying a little bit if I said that lunch was not a major reason I loved field trips.  It wasn’t that I was sick of hot lunch–no, we packed a lunch nearly every day and missed out on the pleasures of government lunch, like taco chalupas, beefy macaroni, and canned peas.  Instead, we had a sandwich of bologna, cotto salami, olive loaf, or ham stuck between two dry pieces of white bread.  I don’t recall using butter. 

But it was the thrill of a paper bag and foods that were “special” for the occasion that helped elevate field trips.  An individual bag of Lays or Cheetos.  Nutty Bars or Swiss Cake Rolls.  A juice box or Capri-Sun.  Convenience food was what we craved!  How was I to know that homemade cookies and bars were not normal?

In much the same way, my daughter begs for hot lunch every time the menu for the next quarter comes out.  Every time I have to convince her that $3.00 is too much for what she gets, that somehow we can make the same things for her–except for those mini omelets.   Little does she know that I work hard to make sure her lunch isn’t normal and boring while also navigating around the peanut restrictions that would leave her sitting at a table by herself.  No Nutty Bars or Scotcharoos for her!  

Instead, I’ve found a tasty alternative.  I admit that Nutella is a luxury I don’t often indulge in, but from time to time it’s nice to switch things up.  When I initially searched for recipes using Nutella, I found that a lot of them mixed Nutella with peanut butter.  Why would you dilute something so good and mess with that peanut allergy thing that so many are working to get around?  And so these are nothing but Nutella, pure and simple.  

A bar worthy of any field trip lunch or end-of-school treat.

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Chocolate Hazelnut Crispy Bars

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 cup chocolate hazelnut spread
  • 6 cups gluten-free crispy rice cereal (feel free to use regular cereal if you aren’t GF)
  • 1 cup semi-sweet and 1 cup milk chocolate chips or 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Combine granulated sugar and corn syrup in large saucepan; bring just to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in chocolate hazelnut spread. Stir in cereal. Press into greased 13 x 9-inch baking pan.

Microwave chocolate chips in medium, microwave-safe bowl on high (100%) power for 1 minute; stir. Microwave at additional 10- to 20-second intervals, stirring until smooth. Spread over cereal mixture. Refrigerate in pan for 20 minutes or until firm.* Cut into bars. Makes 3-4 dozen bars, depending how big you cut them.

*Don’t leave them uncut in the fridge too long, or it’ll be really hard to cut them. If you happen to experience difficulty cutting, let them warm a bit and try again.

Italian Pasta Salad

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 I have a confession to make:  most of the spices in my cupboard remain unlabeled.  A few months back I actually cleaned out my spice stash, threw out the stuff I knew was wayyy beyond fresh, reorganized, and created more counter space.  I have this carousel spice rack from which I emptied all the jars and put the basic spices I had on hand in a number of them, bought a few more to add to the collection, and then… well, that’s as far as I got.  

See, I know what they are.  I know what oregano smells like; I know the consistency of onion powder versus garlic powder.  Paprika is a touch courser and the slightest bit darker than cayenne.  Cumin is clumpier than coriander.  I just know, and since I’m the one who uses them the most, well, I just haven’t gotten around to it.  It’s completely inconsiderate of me as I know that my husband would gladly make supper on Mondays when he’s off of work, but I think the lack of labeling scares him off.  That, and I’m often home before it’s time to start supper.  But that’s beside the point.

 The show must go on.  There are dinners to make, lunches to eat, parties for which to bring a side, and desserts to be enjoyed by family and friends.  This Italian pasta salad has never failed me.  It comes together quite quickly and easily and is completely customizable to your taste or the taste of your audience, though I would argue that the bacon is non-negotiable.  It’s great as a side dish or has enough heft to stand on its own as a main dish, especially with some cubed cooked chicken tossed in.  

But it’s really the dressing that makes it.  A good homemade Italian dressing is golden on pasta, greens, or a torn loaf of crusty bread, and more often than not, you have the ingredients on hand.  Chances are pretty good that yours are also labeled.

pasta, Silas 003Italian Pasta Salad

  • 16 oz. rotini (or other short cut pasta of choice)
  • 8 oz. bacon
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 16 oz. can beans, drained and rinsed (I like kidney beans or Great Northern in this salad)
  • 1 small green pepper, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, lightly drained (a little remaining liquid is okay)
  • 1/4 cup sliced black olives
  • 1 cup shredded or cubed cheddar or mozzarella cheese

Dressing

  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (or add additional white or apple cider)
  • 1/4 cup white or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup vegetable or olive oil
  • 2 tsp. dried basil
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. spicy brown mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  1. Cook pasta in large pot, as directed on package.  Drain and place in large bowl.  Add balsamic vinegar and toss to coat.*
  2. Meanwhile, roughly chop bacon and place in single layer on microwavable plate.  Cover with paper towel and cook in microwave for 3 minutes on high.  Cook in additional 30 second intervals until crisp. Do not toss bacon grease.  Add bacon, bacon grease (up to 3 Tbsp.), onions, beans, green pepper, olives, and tomatoes to pasta in large bowl.  Toss.
  3. Place dressing ingredients in separate container and combine (a pint jar works well to shake ingredients).  Pour over pasta mixture and toss to coat.
  4. Stir cheese into pasta.  Season to taste with additional salt and pepper.  If possible, let sit for at least an hour to allow flavors to blend.  (You may also decide to add more basil, oregano, and a bit of garlic powder to round it out, too.)  

 *If just making the dressing to use for other dishes, add the balsamic vinegar to the rest of the dressing ingredients.